"On Photography" by Susan Sontag & "On Life" by Corona

It took me perhaps nearly 5 years to finish the book “On Photography” by Susan Sontag. I started it, life intervened, and also other books, I forgot about it, picked it up again, life intervened and so on and so on, until just now, when I have finally managed to finish the book. Actually 1.5 times to be precise; the first half in English in genuine book-form, the complete version in Dutch on an e-reader.

It’s not often I switch languages during reading. My English is not that bad, at least I hope to think, and reading in a foreign language is an excellent tool for improving myself. I also love the English language for its ability to sophistically express oneself. But, in this case, Susan’s writing is so specific, and each sentence so full of importance, I’d miss out on refinement required to fully grasp the meaning of these very sentences.

I’m jealous of her brilliant mind ànd, maybe even more, her ability to structure her thoughts and put them into words. I don’t agree with all I have read, which is not the point anyway, but it’s such a good read and challenge for your own perception on things. It’s an extensive and, at the same time compact, even extracted, essay on how photography can be seen and looked upon, and its ever-changing place in our world. Her take on photographs of horrific situations and events around the world meaning to startle us but, in her view, blunt us, is still subject of debate today. She goes even further by noting you either take photos, or you engage in the situation taking place before your eyes (for they can not exist mutually), and seeming not particularly in favour of the person choosing to photograph these scenes with the mere purpose of startling us, while in fact making us numb instead. Of course, this is a minor detail of her book…it touches so many different aspects, it’s hard to accumulate in just a few words.

In the beginning of the book she makes mention of Julia Margaret Cameron “who used the camera as a means of getting painterly images”. Of course, it could very well have been Cameron’s intention to make painterly images. But this painterly feel of the images is also inherent to the process (and limitations of the techniques) used to create them. We go a bit off-road here but this is a specific language on its own, the limitations of a process or technique. It has a linguistic characteristic that tells its own story and has not so much to do with the image itself, but all the more with how we perceive this image and how it makes us feel about the moment depicted. Personally, in my head, I keep making this conjunction because it fascinates me to no end, triggered by one of the most interesting chapters I’ve ever read in the book called “The Keepers of Light; a history & working guide to early photographic processes”, written by William Crawford. The chapter is called “Photographic Syntax”.

Anyway, both worthy of reading and good for passing time during these awkward Corona-days perhaps.. Which kind of brings me to the On Life bit; the exhibition in Eupen has come to a premature ending, logically, because of the whole corona-thing. This period will not be extended after the lock-down, probably because it interferes too much with their upcoming agenda. I hope the images, along with more of the same series, will be showed elsewhere this year, or the next. If anything it provides me with more time to work on it, although the trip to Verdun which was supposed to take place this past weekend, also had to be postponed.

As for the rest, all is well over here. I have more time on my hands due to things falling out. Time to do some behindhand reading 🙂 but also to work on and around the house; redoing the garden and insulating the roof, which is so rewarding in more than one way! I hope all of you are doing as fine as I am, not suffering too much under these corona-days. I wish you well and stay safe! ❤️

2 comments

  1. maybe i should pick-up reading Susan again…. interesting stuff you talk about! wish you all the best… take care

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